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A Look Ahead At Key Milwaukee Issues, As Mayor Barrett Is In Line To Leave For Luxembourg

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett at a press conference Tuesday.

Updated 8:30 a.m. CDT

Milwaukee could have a new mayor soon, as President Joe Biden has nominated current Mayor Tom Barrett to become U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg.

Barrett's nomination still needs the approval of the U.S. Senate. But people are already evaluating Barrett's 17 years as mayor, and looking at what problems he'd leave behind.

The mayor took no questions when meeting with the news media inside his office late Wednesday afternoon. He said he's honored and humbled that Biden has nominated him to be ambassador to the European nation of Luxembourg.

Barrett said he looks forward to serving the interests of the United States, and suggests he'll do so in a Milwaukee way. "As a lifelong Milwaukeean, I will bring the values of our community to this new posting. Values we share such as hard work, honesty and caring for others," he told reporters.

Barrett then assessed his own record as mayor. He said progress has been made on many fronts, "including economic development, racial equity, our pandemic response, city infrastructure and environmental sustainability."

The mayor also acknowledged "some very serious challenges" for the city, but did not name any.

Mayor Tom Barrett strides past the news media, on the way to Wednesday's news conference.
Chuck Quirmbach
Mayor Tom Barrett strides past the news media on the way to Wednesday's news conference.

Milwaukee Alderman Bob Bauman does name some.

"The two or three key issues are fiscal challenges for the fiscal 2022-23 budget and beyond, our problems with central city disinvestment. You know, this last census has shown significant population loss in central city aldermanic districts. Just the number [of] vacant lots that we're creating and the amount of abandoned and foreclosed homes that we have. The rise in crime, with no clear answers. It's related to the pandemic, I'm absolutely convinced of that, but we don't know when that's going to end," Bauman told WUWM.

Still, Bauman said the ambassadorship to Luxembourg is a huge opportunity and honor for the mayor.

Milwaukee Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor, who lost to Barrett in the 2020 mayor's race, said it's been no secret for about a decade that Barrett has been seeking an overseas post.

"More shocking was him running [in 2020] when we knew he wanted to do something different," Taylor told WUWM.

Taylor said if Barrett leaves soon, it would be a great opportunity for the city. She said many topics could go on the front burner. "Everything from creating additional revenue for the city — not just a sales tax but other revenue streams, industry development, workforce, small business, health disparity, I mean there are a number of issues," said Taylor.

When asked if she'll run for mayor again, Taylor said, "we'll see."

If Barrett does leave for Luxembourg, Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson would become acting mayor. Eventually, a special election would likely be called.

Milwaukee City Hall, and its partial reflection in the glass of the new BMO Bank building.
Chuck Quirmbach
Milwaukee City Hall and its partial reflection in the glass of the new BMO Bank building.

On the downtown sidewalks Wednesday evening, Montrell Gordon said Barrett has done a lot of things right. But he said the next mayor needs to work with the school system to provide more funding for what he calls inner-city education.

"It's very important everyone gets an education. No matter where you are, where you live at, education is the most valuable thing we have," Gordon said.

Another downtown pedestrian, who gave his name as "Joe C.," said it's time for a change at city hall. "City's been doing horrible. Have you been driving around? You get outside of downtown, the streets are horrible. The north side is a disgrace. Keeps saying he's going to do something. He never has. So, hopefully, the next guy does better," he said.

Barrett said as long as he's mayor, which could be for several months, "I will continue to focus full attention on mayoral duties. My obligations to the people of this great city. Thank you very much."

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